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Persona and Personalities: Medieval Lineage, Modern Legacy

  • Geoffrey W. Gust
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

In Geoffrey Chaucer’s poetry, it often appears that the author is present in some way, shape, or form. But this seeming presence is a kind of narrative mirage, inconsistent and unreliable. The three well-known disclaimers selected to introduce this chapter are indicative of the shifting, elusive authorial technique manipulated by poet throughout his oeuvre. Chaucer frequently cultivates the illusion of authorial presence, sometimes to establish his own authority—“I wot myself best how y stonde”— and sometimes to defer to the authority of other authors and texts, as in the example cited earlier from Troilus and Criseyde. In other instances, he creates a different kind of illusion by downplaying his presence, to the extent that the Man of Law may enthusiastically speak of Chaucer the poet’s “rymyng.”

Keywords

Narrative Persona Oxford English Dictionary Literary Persona Narrative Perspective Term Persona 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    All quotations of Chaucer are from The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd edn., ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987).Google Scholar
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    Eliot describes the first voice as “the voice of the poet talking to himself—or to nobody,” while the second is the voice of the poet “addressing an audience, whether large or small.” See T. S. Eliot, “The Three Voices of Poetry,” in On Poetry and Poets (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1957), p. 96 [96–112].Google Scholar
  24. 113.
    Wright, Poet in the Poem, pp. 131–132. 114. In fact, in his own recent study of Chaucerian reception, Steve Ellis has argued that Yeats was inspired by Chaucer, whom he saw as a “popular, oral performer” that the Modernist “applauded” for his variety and changes of voice. See Chaucer at Large: The Poet in the Modern Imagination (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), pp. 35, 37, 45.Google Scholar
  25. 115.
    George Lyman Kittredge, Chaucer and His Poetry (1915; repr. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963), p. 155. R. M. Lumiansky’s wellknown extension of Kittredge’s notion of the dramatic principle, which was written only a few years after Donaldson’s work (discussed in the following text), was also very influential in its emphasis on the fictional aspects of Chaucer’s narrative verse. In Lumiansky’s view, the author developed his narratives specifically for character portrayal; thus, many of the individuals we meet strike us as actors in a play whom we know about intimately from their performances (i.e., personae, though the critic does not specifically use this term). Lumiansky contends that Chaucer employed three stages or techniques of dramatic presentation, and describes the links as a sort of “movable stage” present throughout the Tales, with short dramatic scenes. See Of Sondry Folk: The Dramatic Principle in the Canterbury Tales (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1955), pp. 1, 7–8, 27.Google Scholar
  26. 126.
    E. T. Donaldson, ed., Chaucer’s Poetry: An Anthology for the Modern Reader, 2nd edn. (New York: Ronald Press, 1975), pp. 1038–1040. Though Donaldson does seem to favor a direct sort of poetic intentionality, his observations are at times inconsistent or even paradoxical on this issue, as he also suggests that the poet and “Chaucer the Pilgrim” “are not by any means identical in all respects,” and states that “the enormous difference between the poet and the speaker in his poetry is the area in which Chaucer’s poetic vision is broadest and most manifold.” See Chaucer’s Poetry, pp. 1038, 1040.Google Scholar
  27. 135.
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  28. 136.
    Derek Pearsall has been especially adamant in criticizing the notion Chaucerian irony, as is clear in “Epidemic Irony in Modern Approaches to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales,” in Medieval and Pseudo-Medieval Literature, ed. Piero Boitani and Anna Torti (Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1984), pp. 79–89.Google Scholar
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    C. David Benson, “Their Telling Difference: Chaucer the Pilgrim and His Two Contrasting Tales,” Chaucer Review 18.1 (1983): 65 [61–77]. 138. These points are made in C. David Benson, Chaucer’s Drama of Style: Poetic Variety and Contrast in the Canterbury Tales (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), pp. 26–27.Google Scholar
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    See A. J. Minnis, Oxford Guides to Chaucer: The Shorter Poems (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), p. 3.Google Scholar
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    Evelyn Birge Vitz, Medieval Narrative and Modern Narratology: Subjects and Objects of Desire (New York: New York University Press, 1989), p. 222.Google Scholar
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    See Lawrence de Looze, Pseudo-Autobiography in the Fourteenth Century: Juan Ruiz, Guillaume de Machaut, Jean Froissart, and Geoffrey Chaucer (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1997), pp. 2, 12, 16, 35.Google Scholar
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    De Looze, Pseudo-Autobiography, p. 37. I have taken the notion of “mimetic ideology” from Stephen Knight, “Ideology in ‘The Franklin’s Tale,’ ” Parergon 28 (1980): 25 [3–35]. We might recall here that mimesis has an important historical relationship to classical persona-theory.Google Scholar
  36. 185.
    Henrik Skov Nielsen, “The Impersonal Voice in First-Person Narrative Fiction,” Narrative 12.2 (2004): 139, 145 [133–150].Google Scholar
  37. 186.
    Phrasing taken from Sheila Delany, Medieval Literary Politics: Shapes of Ideology (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990), p. 120.Google Scholar
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    See Chauncey Wood, “The Author’s Address to the Reader: Chaucer, Juan Ruiz, and Dante,” in Hermeneutics and Medieval Culture, ed. Patrick Gallacher and Helen Damico (New York: State University of New York Press, 1989), p. 58 [51–60].Google Scholar
  39. 190.
    Heale, Autobiography and Authorship, p. 2. In actuality, the first citation of “autobiography” provided by the OED is from 1797, although the remainder of the early examples are drawn from the nineteenth century.Google Scholar
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    Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978), p. 164.Google Scholar
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    See H. Porter Abbott, The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 63.Google Scholar
  42. 195.
    Thomas Garbáty makes a similar assertion in “The Degradation of Chaucer’s ‘Geffrey,’ ” PMLA 89.1 (1974): 103 [97–104].Google Scholar
  43. 196.
    See Derek Brewer, “The Reconstruction of Chaucer,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer Proceedings, no. 1 (1984): 6, 13 [3–19].Google Scholar
  44. 199.
    Walker has set forth her “persona criticism” in “Persona Criticism and the Death of the Author,” in Contesting the Subject: Essays in the Postmodern Theory and Practice of Biography and Biographical Criticism, ed. William H. Epstein (West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 1991), pp. 109–121. I cite above from pages 109, 114, 119. 200. See Walker, “Persona Criticism,” 119.Google Scholar
  45. 202.
    See Roy Sommer’s assessment of present-day narrative theories in “Beyond (Classical) Narratology: New Approaches to Narrative Theory,” European Journal of English Studies 8.1 (2004): 6 [3–11].Google Scholar
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    For this conceptualization, see Tison Pugh, Queering Medieval Genres (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), p. 158.Google Scholar
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    See Carla Freccero, Queer/Early/Modern (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), p. 47.Google Scholar
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  49. 209.
    See Alan Sinfield, Faultlines: Cultural Materialism and the Politics of Dissident Reading (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), p. 22. Sinfield is not specifically discussing the persona with these words, but the ideological interpretation of various literary narratives.Google Scholar

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© Geoffrey W. Gust 2009

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